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Victorian photographers in Ipswich: SAWYER, SMITH and WHITE

Victorian photographers in Ipswich: SAWYER, SMITH and WHITE

Posted: 1362406010000
Classification: Query
Many of us are fortunate enough to have inherited Victorian and Edwardian photographs. If we're very lucky, they will have been endorsed with names and dates. More often, the only name on the back is the photographer's, and the closest thing to a date is a serial number for the negative. I'd like to develop the dating potential of those chronological numbers by inviting other owners to share images created by the "Brook Street gang".

A single series of negative numbers starting at 15,000 was used by three 19th-century photographers at 18 (Upper) Brook Street, Ipswich, a triple-storey building apparently once connected to 52 and 50 Butter Market, where elongated north-facing windows (typical of a Victorian studio) can still be seen on the top floor. Now designated 54 Butter Market, the corner shop is an "Italian" coffee house, evoking its appellation in 1865, when this site was chosen by J. R. SAWYER of Norwich for his "Italian Studio" (Ipswich Journal, 21 October 1865, page 3, column 1). That name continued to be used for a few months after the business was transferred in March 1867 to his manager, Walter Azemberg SMITH, who seems to have been there until John WHITE took over in 1883. (See below for more details, plus and

John Robert SAWYER had previously established photographic studios in Norwich and he was also an optician, initially visiting Suffolk every Tuesday for the benefit of his Brook Street clientele (Ipswich Journal, e.g. 28 October 1865, p. 2, col. 4). Within a month of his announcement of the new studio, he claimed to be issuing 1,000 or more cartes de visite per week from Norwich and Ipswich (Ipswich Journal, 18 November 1865, p. 4, col. 5). These would have included "Ipswich Views" and the pictures of various local worthies, many of whom were listed (as in the attached table) with negative numbers between 15,029 and 15,215 in an advertisement in the Ipswich Journal on 23 December 1865 (p. 2, col. 5). This mentioned an additional "Catalogue of 300 of the principal Nobility, Clergy, and Gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk," whose portraits could be obtained for a shilling each from either of the Italian Studios, at 18 Brook Street, Ipswich, or 46 London Street, Norwich.

In 1866, repeated adverts in the Ipswich Journal from 17 March to 18 August include this information: "The Ipswich Negatives are numbered 15,000 to 15,580; they are all carefully preserved and registered. Copies can be procured at any time quite equal to those first printed."

Curiously, the numbers remain unchanged throughout that five-month period, even after the introduction of new elements in June, such as the patronage of the Maharajah of Johore and this message for parents: "J. R. SAWYER Makes a Special Feature of CHILDREN'S PORTRAITS; having a very clear and brilliant light in his Studio, and being furnished with the best and most rapid Lenses, he has been successful with the most difficult, and obtained in many cases Children's Portraits which before had been given up as hopeless. N.B. Time for Children from 11 till 2. The Studio Open Daily from Ten till Four."

I suppose the brighter light near the middle of the day would minimize exposure times, reducing the risk of blurred images of fidgety children.

On 25 August 1866 a new style of advertisement appears in the Ipswich Journal, publicising a great improvement in photography ("J. R. SAWYER has just perfected his Ivory Type Enamels") and proclaiming an average weekly distribution of a thousand cartes de visite (costing 8 shillings for 6, 12 shillings for 12, or 21 shillings for 24, with no extra charge for vignettes or children). He was now attending personally at his Ipswich premises on both Tuesdays and Fridays. The same advert was used throughout the next two months, until 20 October. I've found no others until 26 January 1867, when J. R. SAWYER introduced several novelties: the "Richmond Portrait" (2½ guineas); the "Tinted Crayon Portrait" (one guinea); portraits coloured in enamel (from 2s. 6d. each); and the "Family Group" carte de visite. This "fine art photography" notice dated January 1867 continued to be published until 23 March, but a week later the studio had a new owner:

"J. R. SAWYER Begs to inform his valued connection in Suffolk that he has disposed of his Business, 18 Brook Street, Ipswich, to his Artist, Mr. W. A. SMITH, who has led the Management of the Artistic Department since the business was established." (Ipswich Journal, 30 March 1867 and later)

The proprietor of the Italian Studio in Ipswich is subsequently advertised as artist, draughtsman and photographer "W. A. SMITH, (Late J. R. Sawyer)". By July 1867, he was emerging from the shadow of his former employer: the Ipswich Journal advertisements highlight a medal awarded at the Needham Market Fine Arts and Industrial Exhibition (for excellence in photographic portraits) and no longer refer to the Italian Studio or its originator, although the line "(late Sawyer)" probably enjoyed a more extended lifespan on the back of SMITH's early prints.

The handover from Walter A. SMITH to John WHITE is not so easy to pinpoint. The best indication I've seen is an unnumbered photograph of an unbreeched boy ("Unknown child") by John WHITE … late Walter A. SMITH, dated August 1883 (

I’ll be uploading some of my own images with future posts in this thread and I hope other contributors will help to produce a more complete picture. Even undated prints can be of interest for comparison, and the evolving designs of the mounts can be as significant as the changing styles of fashion.

David Gobbitt

Re: Victorian photographers in Ipswich: prints by J. R. SAWYER

Posted: 1362408075000
Classification: Query
A cousin in Canada kindly supplied these images of two photographs produced by J. R. SAWYER, probably at his Ipswich studio, since our relatives lived in Suffolk.

Number 17,583A has been named as farmer Thomas HYEM (c.1801-1885) of Felixstowe, who married Hannah Maria BUGG (c.1815-1850) in 1839. The identity of the man in number 17,051B is not known. He looks about 50 years old, so he could be Hannah's brother, Charles Joseph BUGG of Boulge and Melton (c.1816-1908).

On the basis of the newspaper advertisements outlined in my previous posting, I believe these prints date from late 1866 or early 1867. I wonder whether numbers in the 16,000s had been assigned to negatives at Ipswich or Norwich.

Re: Victorian photographers in Ipswich: numbered prints by Walter A. SMITH

Posted: 1362499211000
Classification: Query
Edited: 1382102435000
Here is a selection of cartes de visite by Walter A. SMITH, who was at 18 Brook Street, Ipswich, between 1867 and 1883. Their dates are not marked, so the following notes give my best guesses, which I hope will be refined by other people's contributions.

This young lady is from the same Canadian album as the two prints by J. R. SAWYER posted yesterday. The length of her skirt reveals that she may be older than she looks, but that hasn't helped me to identify her. A date in the late 1860s is indicated by several features: the style of the dress; the exposed ears; the full-length pose; the studio's furnishings; and, not least, the inclusion of Mr SAWYER's name on the back.

William GOBBITT (1837-1913) of Sudbourne and Bawdsey married Jane Elizabeth GARRARD (1839-1871) at Athelington on 19 September 1866. The inscription on the back ("William Gobbitt about time of his marriage 1866") was probably written much later by their daughter Celia Mary ROPE (1868-1960). The date must have been at least six months after the wedding (since Mr SMITH became the owner of the Italian Studio in March 1867) unless this was a reprint of an earlier picture, but I think the negative number is high enough to make that unlikely.

22,242 A Vig [vignette]
Another unidentified lady of uncertain date in my Canadian cousin's album. The fringed hairstyle wouldn't be out of place in the 1880s, while the epaulettes or chevrons on the sleeves may suggest the 1860s if not the early 1870s, which I think the negative number will corroborate. The trade plate is remarkably plain for that decade. Could this be a specimen or "proof" printed prior to approval by the client?

33,236 GCO
I'm completely baffled by the suffix "GCO". I know of no relatives with those initials and I think the lady in this picture is more likely to be my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Moyse GOBBITT née SMYTH (1850-1932), who used to own the album containing it. In view of the negative number, the date would be some time after her marriage in February 1872.

I bought this photograph mainly for the number, not for the unknown lady with a mottled face. Her dress is so distinctive that I expect someone will be able to date it more precisely than my estimate of the very late 1870s or early 1880s.

7006? oval ¼ P
This is rather puzzling, and not just because I can't identify the young lady, whose picture was covered by a later one in my family album. It's obviously an oval shape and I understand that quarter-plate was a standard size for a carte de visite print or negative, but the number 7006 is much lower than any others I've seen in the series used at 18 Brook Street. If it was written in error for 17,006, that would place it in J. R. SAWYER's time, about three years or more before 1870, when this hair style was in vogue. It would make no more sense to me if it were 700G, which seems less likely. The decorative trade plate is unusual, so I'd be interested to see any other examples.

Re: Victorian photographers in Ipswich: numbered prints by John WHITE

Posted: 1362586801000
Classification: Query
John WHITE set up his studio in Brook Street by August 1883, having been on the Cornhill for a few years at 4 Westgate Street, in partnership with his wife's brother, Alfred Henry CADE (see The WHITE family probably remained at 18 Upper Brook Street or 52 Butter Market (next-door) until John's death in December 1909. His son, Arthur Leslie, had joined the business of "John White & Son" by 1904, soon after a new studio was opened in Felixstowe, where he was still operating in the 1920s.

The first of these portraits by John WHITE is "C. GOBBITT" dated April 1887 or perhaps 1889. Celia Mary, born on 29 August 1868, was a daughter of farmer William GOBBITT (see yesterday's posting - negative no 19,793A). William experienced serious financial difficulties in 1888 and Celia was working as a governess for a family in Yorkshire by 1891, so this carte de visite may have been labelled to accompany a job application. The handwriting matches her signature in the marriage register of Bayswater, London, in 1895, when she married Walter Henry ROPE of Orford, Suffolk. I have a copy of a note she wrote more than 50 years later including both sevens and nines but I still can't be sure whether the photograph was taken in 1887 or 1889. Does anyone have another numbered print of that age?

The following five cartes de visite appear to date from the late 1880s (making 57,832 more likely to have been produced in 1887). The inscription on the back of the second of these (61069: "Mr. & Mrs. Girling 3 daughters") has enabled the whole family to be identified. They lived at Pettistree Hall Farm in Sutton and were distantly related to my ancestors in nearby Capel St Andrew through a marriage at Gisleham in January 1885.

Annie GIRLING (1850-1903) daughter of Henry & Ann BELLERBY of York

Annie's husband Charles Drake GIRLING (c.1848-1924)

Probably Annie Lynda GIRLING (1874-1963) if not her sister Edith

Probably Edith Mary GIRLING (1875-1945) if not her sister Annie

Janet Gytha (or Gytha Janet) GIRLING (1880-1943)

64,116 A
This carte de visite shows my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Moyse GOBBITT (1850-1932), possibly about the time of her marriage to Thomas BRADY at Bredfield in January 1891, when shoulders were beginning to rise. She retained the hairstyle of her younger days, rather than adopting the fringe that became popular during the 1880s.

My grandfather thought the man in this cabinet print looked like his grandmother's cousin, Sutton Bendall BURROWS (1865-1944) of Woodbridge, whose dairy he used to visit for lunch when he was working in the town in 1915, but Kelly’s Suffolk directories for both 1912 and 1916 show only Sutton’s brother Russell BURROWS (1875-1939) as a dairyman there. I hope the negative number can someday be dated accurately enough to distinguish between them. Connoisseurs of printers' marks may like to know that the letters at the foot of the mount are REG C E & C.

This is my grandfather's aunt Mary Lenox (Maydie) GOBBITT (1880-1972) in a vignetted head-and-shoulders portrait typical of the 1890s, presenting little other evidence of the carte de visite's date, which may be close to 1900.

I look forward to seeing other prints with more definite dates.

Re: Victorian photographers in Ipswich: numbered prints by Walter A. SMITH

Posted: 1382126204000
Classification: Query
Surnames: SMITH
A few more of W. A. SMITH's cartes de visite have come to light in Canada. All appear to have rounded corners. Although they are neither named nor dated, their numbers and other details may be useful:

20480 A
There are numerous pointers here to the late 1860s or early 1870s. Incongruous drapery, supposedly hiding a headrest or neck clamp, was still almost obligatory, even for such a young man who might not be expected to need the additional support of both a chair and a cane to keep him steady.

26159 B
It would be hard to cram more fashions of the early 1870s into this impressive little print. The suffix on the back may have been amended from "vig" to "oval" as a true vignette would have a fading border …

36332 B
… like this later "vig."

Re: Victorian photographers in Ipswich: prints by WHITE of Ipswich and Felixstowe

Posted: 1451500286000
Classification: Query
The first of these photographs is a Cade & White carte de visite dated August 1882 (code numbered 72/29 by an eBay merchant). The figures posing on Felixstowe's eastern beach may be the photographer's wife Clara Maria (1847-1929) and some of their children, including Arthur Leslie White (1876-1963). From 1879 Clara's brother Alfred Henry Cade (1843-1927) ran the studio of their late father Robert Cade (1820-1879) at 4 Westgate Street, Cornhill, Ipswich, initially in partnership with brother-in-law John White. John left to take over Walter A. Smith's studio at 18 Brook Street by August 1883, as evidenced by the carte de visite of an unknown child (, reproduced here with the kind consent of James Morley.

John White's carte de visite dated March 1886 came to me by way of eBay in 2014, together with a similar portrait of the same man by Kerby & Son of Ipswich & Harwich, conveying this message to "Bro. Napier P.M" in 1893: "Hearty good wishes from JG" (or perhaps from JY or IG). Newspapers reveal that Brother James Napier (1850-1898) was a Past Master (P.M.) of the St Luke's Lodge No 225.

I am indebted to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry ( for details of John White's Masonic progress. In 1872, whilst working as a photographer in Mussoorie, Bengal, India, he was initiated in the Dalhousie Lodge No 639. On 14 May 1879, having moved to Ipswich, he described himself as an artist when he joined the St Luke’s Lodge No 225, from which he resigned in September 1887. He had joined another Ipswich lodge, the Prince of Wales Lodge No 959, in February 1881, rising to become its Master in 1884 and again in 1888, after attaining the rank of Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works in 1886. He was also involved with the Royal Alexandra Chapter No 959 in Ipswich between 1885 and 1897. In 1895 he was First Principal of the Chapter as well as Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies [Royal Arch].

If the sitter photographed in March 1886 was a fellow Freemason, he may have held the office of Inner Guard (I.G.). Whoever he was, he has served us well by dating negative number 55951 so precisely.

The portrait of the Watkins family may have been created in late 1893. Ethel Ada Watkins (1891-1963) is between her parents, Ipswich lime merchant Eldred Watkins (c.1861-1952) and Ada Sophia née Pickett (1865-1932). This cabinet print was found in Cambridge and kindly copied by Fading Images webmaster Les Waters (

This negative number suggests a date at least one year later than 1894, which I believe is indicated by the printer's code (_ Marion Imp. Paris _ _ _) according to the system elucidated by Roger Vaughan ( Marion's registered number for the stock design looks like 41.061. The unidentified lady in this cabinet photograph (bought recently from an eBid seller based near Bristol, in south-western England) closely resembles the next example, obtained from a different source.

This cabinet print appears to date from about 1900, when John White had studios in both Ipswich and Felixstowe. It was in an album of unknown origin, bought last year in Ipswich, containing several unidentified cartes de visite made by John White of 18 Brook Street in the 1890s.

Kelly's 1900 directory of Suffolk locates the studios at 13 Victoria Parade, Felixstowe, and 18 Upper Brook Street, Ipswich. The next edition, dated September 1904, lists John alone at 21 Victoria Parade (possibly the same premises, renumbered, on the western side of the southern section of Hamilton Road, Felixstowe) but John White & Son at 52 Butter Market, Ipswich (adjoining 18 Upper Brook Street). Annual Ipswich street directories from 1899/1900 to 1904 (helpfully checked by the Guildhall Library) all show simply John White at 52 Butter Market, and additionally at 18 Upper Brook Street in the 1899/1900 directory.

An advertisement by John White & Son in the first of Cowell's Handy Guides announced in 1907: "The Felixstowe Studio is now open for the Season." Cowell's Felixstowe directory for 1909 – the year of John's death – places his son Arthur Leslie White (1876-1963) at The Hut, Exeter Road, Walton, and their studio at 21 Hamilton Road (pages 97 & 161) or The Parade (p. 64). "White & Son, Felixstowe and Ipswich" are credited under a photograph of U.D.C. Chairman Frank William Mason on the fifth page of this directory ( but I have yet to see "& Son" appended on any of their cartes de visite, cabinet prints or postcards.

The business was still named John White & Son as late as 1912 in Kelly's county directory (at 21 Victoria Parade, Felixstowe, while photographic artist Arthur Leslie White was listed at 52 Butter Market, Ipswich). By 1914, in the third edition of Cowell's directory of the Felixstowe area, Arthur's studio was under his own name at 21 Victoria Parade. (No photographer is acknowledged for the portrait of the new Chairman of the Urban District Council, Charles Frederick Fisk, near the front of this edition.)

Although clearly much later than the Victorian period, this 6.5 x 9.5 cm print is from same album as 74814 and is included here to show that Arthur Leslie White (identifiable from his "ALW" monogram) continued to allocate numbers at his studio in Felixstowe from the series used by his father and their Brook Street predecessors in Ipswich.

Arthur was probably operating at 21 Victoria Parade (21 Hamilton Road) up to 1922, when he was still listed in Kelly's county directory but had disappeared from the local phone book. His niece Barbara or Betty Birch (1907-1998), who lived nearby, remembered helping him during the summer of 1923 in his shop at the bottom of South Hill, Felixstowe. He may have spent the next five years there, at 47 Undercliff Road West, before moving to the south coast of England. His new seafront premises at Bexhill, Sussex, were requisitioned by the military in 1940, so he returned to Suffolk and ran the Adolphus Tear studio at 2 The Walk, Ipswich, until about 1948. Arthur was certainly there in June 1945, when he was 69 and my mother was 17, as seen on the rear cover of a print numbered 45854. By 1952 he was back in Sussex, living at Willingdon. He died in an Eastbourne nursing home in 1963.

Re: Victorian photographers in Ipswich: numbered prints by Walter A. SMITH

Posted: 1494591810000
Classification: Query
Beverley BOWRY of Ipswich has kindly shared three cartes de visite by W. A. SMITH:

19686B and 20357A (sitters unknown)
These portraits were probably made in 1868 or 1869. The 670 register numbers between them tell us that the young couple had been photographed before the single man visited the studio, but his mount is the one that refers to Walter SMITH's predecessor, John SAWYER.

Assuming that only the earliest mounts mentioned SAWYER, we may be looking at a reprint of 19686B, stuck on a new card some time after the sitting. Another possibility is that old stock was not entirely exhausted before the new design came into use. What is clear is that we cannot rely solely on the style of a trade plate to determine the date of a photograph.

Mrs MASON & her son Philip
The unnumbered cdv features Sarah MASON of Chelmondiston (Beverley's widowed great-grandmother, later Mrs WILSON, née ALLEN) with her son Philip MASON, who was born in November 1859. His apparent age (about 11?) points to 1870 or 1871, when he was boarding at Prospect House School in Claydon or perhaps soon to go there.

An eBay merchant is currently advertising a red-bordered cameo portrait numbered 29384A on an otherwise similar mount, very much like the "7006" cdv posted here on 5 March 2013. Both seem to date from the early or mid-1870s.
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